Jānis Baumanis began the 2023 FIA European Rallycross Championship curtain-raiser at Nyirád Racing Center this weekend (29-30 April) feeling under the weather. He ended it standing on top of the podium following an epic season-opener in front of a capacity Hungarian crowd.
Behind the wheel of his Peugeot 208, Baumanis was one of the pace-setters from the outset in the high-calibre Euro RX1 field, bolstering a heat win with a brace of further top three times to soar to the summit of the intermediate standings ahead of Audi driver Enzo Ide and impressive home hero Máté Benyó.
From there, the Latvian – a former European Super1600 (now Euro RX3) champion – led the first semi-final from lights-to-flag. He subsequently did the same in the all-important final, winding up just under a second clear of his closest pursuer to tally a maximum score of 23 championship points with his seventh career victory.
“It’s a great feeling!” Baumanis acknowledged. “This is for RX Team Latvia for all the long hours everybody has put in. We only got the team together and started to assemble the car in March, so they deserve this result so much. It’s unbelievable. It’s also for my mother, who celebrated her birthday on Friday. This win is my gift to her.
“It’s been a tough weekend. I’ve been feeling really bad and my neck has been very sore, but I tried not to think about it too much and did some ‘mind yoga’ in the car to keep calm! Thankfully, everything ran smoothly without any technical problems, which was so important, and I need to say a big thanks to all the amazing spectators here at the track and all the Latvian fans who cheered me on. Nothing can be better than this.”
If Baumanis’ weekend – illness aside – was relatively trouble-free, the same could not be said for many of his rivals in the ‘Red Cauldron’. Indeed, the story of the eventual runner-up – defending champion Anton Marklund – was a real rollercoaster ride.
After describing his Ford Fiesta as ‘the worst car he had ever driven’ following FP1, Marklund and the SET Promotion team dug deep to turn the situation around. Fastest in heat one, the Swede looked poised to pick up from where he had left off at the end of last season, but then a first corner crash in heat three – when contact with Tamás Kárai sent him into a spin, following which he was collected by an unsighted Sivert Svardal – threatened to entirely derail his bid.
The damage appeared to be terminal and ruled Marklund out of heat four, but the SET Promotion crew produced a herculean effort to get their driver back out on-track for the semi-finals, which – courtesy of his earlier results – he snuck into by the skin of his teeth. He rewarded them by twice battling his way through from the rear of the grid, placing third in the semi-final to book his slot in the final and then unleashing a scintillating turn-of-speed to secure the runner-up spoils.
The rostrum was completed by Patrick O’Donovan, who also had a story to tell. Suspension damage in heat three prompted what the British teenager quipped were ‘pre-celebratory donuts’, but he bounced back in fine style to top the timesheets in heat four. He then exploited an early joker strategy in the semi-final to advance to the final, where he got the better of Ide to cement his first Euro RX1 podium finish in only his second outing.
The Belgian took the chequered flag fourth to cap another strong weekend, with Benyó a superb fifth in his older Peugeot. Fans’ favourite Andreas Bakkerud was in the mix for a trophy until he retired on the penultimate lap. Countryman Svardal – who once again challenged the series’ big names in his family-run Volkswagen Polo – was similarly out-of-luck, his weekend curtailed by the heat three contact with Marklund.
POLE POSITION FOR LITWINOWICZ IN TITLE HUNT
In Euro RX3, Damian Litwinowicz rebounded from a first heat coming-together with Jens Hvaal to prevail in heat two and set further top three times in the remaining two heats, putting him on pole position for the second semi-final. He proceeded to win the race – twice, after the first attempt was red-flagged due to a roll for João Ribeiro – and thereafter controlled the pace in the final to seal his breakthrough victory in the class.
The Pole was chased home by team-mate Espen Isaksætre – who topped two of the four heats on his debut for Volland Racing and maiden visit to Nyirád – and local star Balázs Körmöczi, who confidently took the fight to the all-conquering Audis and put on a spectacular show for the appreciative audience. Hvaal, fellow Škoda star Jan Černý – who hit the wall in his pursuit of the podium – and Hungary’s Ferenc Ficza rounded out the top six, as Saturday pace-setter Nils Volland’s weekend unravelled on day two.
The Euro RX campaign will continue on 3-4 June at Montalegre in Portugal, in support of the opening round of the 2023 FIA World Rallycross Championship.
FINAL RESULT: EURO RX1
1. Jānis BAUMANIS(LVA) RX Team Latvia 5 laps
2. Anton MARKLUND(SWE) SET Promotion + 0.901s
3. Patrick O’DONOVAN(GBR) Team RX Racing + 1.600s
4. Enzo IDE(BEL) Enzo Ide + 2.628s
5. Máté BENYÓ (HUN) Korda Racing KFT+ 4.648s
6. Andreas BAKKERUD(NOR) Andreas Bakkerud+ 2 laps
FINAL RESULT: EURO RX3
1. Damian LITWINOWICZ(POL) Volland Racing 5 laps
2. Espen ISAKSÆTRE (NOR) Volland Racing + 0.565s
3. Balázs KÖRMÖCZI (HUN) Szada Ring Racing KFT + 2.685s
4. Jens HVAAL(NOR) Jens Hvaal+ 6.660s
5. Jan ČERNÝ(CZE) Pajr S.R.O + 13.223s
6. Ferenc FICZA(HUN) EAK M-Sport KFT+ 4 laps
Write up by European Rallycross Championship